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Hundreds of protesters clashed with security forces in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown this week, in a deadly protest over rising inflation and mounting costs of living in one of Africa’s poorest countries, CNN reported.

Anti-government demonstrators had taken to the streets to lament the country’s economic situation and the perceived lack of government support for ordinary people struggling to meet their basic needs. Analysts said the protests had been brewing for days but escalated Wednesday and into Thursday. At least 21 protesters were killed in Freetown, reported CNN, and six officers died in anti-government protests in northern and western Sierra Leone, officials told Reuters. The toll is likely higher, analysts added.

Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh declared a nationwide curfew and vowed to investigate the deaths.

Over the past two decades, Sierra Leone has struggled to recover from a devastating 11-year civil war that killed 50,000 people and destroyed the economy. Currently, more than half of the population of about 8 million lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.

Local entrepreneur Morris Marah told CNN that the government blamed the current situation on the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. But he countered that Sierra Leone’s economic woes were present even before the pandemic and the war.

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